A Delhi riot victim looks back at the instigation, the violence and the aftermath
As the last week of February marks the first anniversary of the ugly Delhi riots, a victim speaks of life and longing and what the year has delivered
In the days before the riot started, there was simmering tension in North East Delhi, where I live. Muslims were anxious and angry over the Citizenship Amendment Act. Hindus were equally angry and anxious, having been told that Muslims were poised to take over their homes, their women and their localities as in Shaheen Bagh.
It was toxic and there was fear and hatred in the air. Minor clashes would break out during the day following heated exchanges between small groups. By evening tempers would cool down, wiser heads would get together to mediate and peace would prevail. But the administration was nowhere to be seen.
Every morning WhatsApp groups would be flooded with misinformation. Our Hindu friends from the neighbourhood would sometimes share the content and accuse us of sending Muslim women to Shaheen Bagh and other protest sites in lieu of a daily payment of Rs 500 per woman. We would laugh and sometimes lose our cool and argue but soon part as friends. But some of them were clearly convinced that this was indeed true.
I vividly remember the day it started. A chicken outlet in the locality was set on fire. This was followed by an unprovoked ‘lathi-charge’ by police on women protesting against the CAA. Rumours made the round that mobs were marching with sticks and swords. Tempers were frayed. A stray stone was cast somewhere and someone somewhere else opened fire and before one realised what was happening, the entire area was taken over by mobs.
I know the police did not respond or receive phone calls. I myself called them many times. I know many more who called the emergency number 100. But there was no response. The situation was allowed to escalate. Indeed, the police were barely seen on the first three days when mobs had a free hand.
I know of scores of Muslim families who have moved out of Gokulpuri to rented accommodation in Mustafabad after their houses were vandalised or set on fire. They would like to sell the property but are being offered a pittance. Human beings do know how to take advantage of others’ misery. Strike them when they are on their knees.
At Shiv Vihar, NGOs like AIMPLB, Zakat Foundation and others have been trying to help people to rebuild their shops and rehabilitate them. While Delhi Government has disbursed some compensation to almost everyone, barring those who have gone back to their villages, the amounts are so little that they have not satisfied anyone.
The government had fixed the ceiling of compensation at five lakh rupees for a single floor. So, even when shops with stocks valued at much higher amounts were looted or burnt, the owners received only five lakh rupees at most.
It has been a harrowing year when the Crime Branch of Delhi Police harassed everyone even remotely associated with anti-CAA protests. They were summoned to the police station and if they expressed their inability, notices were issued by the Crime Branch. People would be shown videos and asked to identify people. Pleading that they were just crossing the street or merely passing through the area was dismissed as non-cooperation.
During the questioning the police would also give lectures on the CAA and say there was no reason to protest against the law. They would want to know why someone was visiting the protest site or passing through the area. At least some police stations had portraits of V.D. Savarkar hanging on the wall. The message was not subtle in any sense. I myself had been to the protest two or three times in the previous two months. But because I was there in the CCTV footage, I was made to spend hours at the police station, answering questions and listening to how good the CAA is.
I also know women, young and old, who were summoned and their mobile phones confiscated. The policemen spent hours going through the content, messages and the call lists, and asking questions which were intrusive and at times embarrassing. It was a serious invasion of privacy and I know women who parted with cash to avoid the harassment. Teenaged girls were picked up by the police, often in the absence of women police, and threatened. “Give us names of five of your friends or you will be put in jail” or “identify these men in this video or we will arrest you”, they would be told.
We have not only lost trust in the police and the government but we no longer trust the media. We are not only afraid of speaking to Hindu journalists, fearing that our words would be twisted, we are also afraid of speaking to Muslim journalists because of the fear that our statements to them could be used against us. That is why I will not give you my real name.
Several well-to-do families have been ruined. I know of businessmen who had to line up for food during the lockdown. Riots were designed to financially wreck the community. People who had lived in these areas for a quarter of a century in peace and harmony, find their lives turned upside down. There are whole stretches from Karawal Nagar to Bhajanpura where each Muslims shop was burnt or looted while shops owned by people from the majority community were left untouched.
No attempt has been made at reconciliation during this past year. Shop owners’ associations dominated by the majority community have passed resolutions that they would not engage Muslims as employees or rent their shops to Muslims. Even Muslim rickshaw
pullers have now been restricted to Muslim areas, afraid to venture out into mixed areas – if they are still there—where they fear they would be attacked because of their beard or their skull cap.
Nobody expects justice. Initially Delhi Police refused to even register FIRs. Then some public- spirited lawyers rallied and helped victims register the cases. Police would then club four-five cases together. Many Muslims are still in jail, without trial and without bail. Advocate Mahmood Pracha was helping us, pro-bono. But Delhi Police raided his office and confiscated his laptops and electronic devices. The evidence that we had parted with and what he painstakingly collected with great difficulty, we fear, are lost.
Not all policemen are corrupt or biased. Hindu men have also been arrested. But a large majority of the policemen are indoctrinated and are under the influence of a political party or ideology. They always seemed keen to prove that the citizenship law was beneficial than in investigating the rioting.
Everybody has seen the video clips which show four five policemen beating the daylights out of a few young men and forcing them to sing the national anthem. Everybody knows one of them died. Everybody also knows that the policemen have not been identified and no action has been taken. At all anti-CAA protest sites, protestors would sing the national anthem. What was the big deal? Did they seriously believe that Muslims cannot or will not sing the national anthem?
There is no security; there is no hope of justice and there is no respect for us. Put yourself in our shoes and imagine how we feel. The media is demonising us all the time. If TV channels talk of terrorism, they show children studying in madrasas; if they discuss the rise in the number of COVID cases, they show people in skull caps. Online trolls seem to know more about Islam than we do with their incessant taunts of ‘halala palala’. But we have nowhere to go. Who should we tell our misery to in this country we always thought was ours?
(As told to Sanjukta Basu)